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How you first engage a new culture matters

by Omar Reyes

Konrad Lorenz the Nobel Prize winning psychologist discovered a concept called bonding or imprinting. Most of us remember the picture of the duckling following him around at that critical time, just after hatching. Lorenz and the duckling were alone together and from that point forward the duckling responded to him as if he were the parent. The imprinted duckling experienced a sense of belonging to the man. Recent studies support the concept and significance of bonding between a mother and her baby. If mother and infant are together at that critical time right after birth a close bond occurs, but if mother and infant are separated immediately after birth, the infant can become attached to a surrogate or substitute mother. Apparently right after birth divinely designed psychological and physiological factors impact a newborn’s ability to bond with his parents. Birth is essentially the entrance into a new culture and environment with new sights, sounds and smells. It has been proven that during this moment of entrance, a child is especially equipped with the extraordinary ability to respond to these new and unusual circumstances. There is an important parallel between the infant entrance into his new culture and people who engage into a new foreign culture.

The first days and weeks of engaging a culture are critical. In this situation the person entering a new culture is bombarded with new sensations, sights, and smells but is able to respond to the new environment and experiences, while his adrenaline is flowing and his excitement is at a peak. Upon arrival he is in a unique state of readiness, both physiologically and emotionally, to establish a bond with the local people in his new environment. But instead many times he is taken away to bond with people of his own culture first, losing this unique opportunity. New missionaries tend to create this bond with other expatriates rather than with the people of the new society.  I grew up in Belize and was greatly influenced by Canadian missionaries and witnessed the effect of these two types of entrances. When the missionaries did not quickly immerse themselves in the local culture they were primarily perceived as outsiders and found it very difficult to develop a sense of feeling at home in that local culture, therefore seldom pursued, as way of life, significant relationships in the community. This was often reflected in their language and attitude towards the locals. You would often hear statements like “Oh, these people! Why do they always do things this way?” or “Someone ought to teach them how to live.” or “Won’t these people ever learn?”

During those first days or weeks, immerse yourself in the local culture. Try to live with a local family for a few weeks before you engage others like yourself. It’s better to dive right in and experience life from the “insider’s” perspective. Live with the local people, go shopping with them and use their public transportation. From the very first day it is important to develop meaningful relationships with the local people.  It will leave a lasting imprint. God came to us and entered our culture and made His home among us and became a belonger with mankind in order to draw people into a belonging relationship with God.

THE SKELETONS IN GOD’S CLOSET

by Bob Roberts Jr
I absolutely loved this book.  You have to read it slowly, or at least I did, and I had to think a lot.  Most “new” books, except for people like Willard, don’t make me do that a lot, at least not at a deep level.   As to his writing style and content – this young man is simply incredible.  I predict we’re going to be reading a lot more of his books, at least I hope.  I’m not sure I understood everything he said, or that I would agree with everything – but candidly I don’t read books that simply reinforce what I already think about stuff.  I read this as a favor to Rick McKinley because he is on staff as the glocal outreach pastor with Rick at Imago Dei in Portland, Oregon.
This book actually deals with questions that people ask – questions most believers want to avoid.  He focuses on three questions:  Hell, judgment, and war.  Theologically he develops them in a very consistent way.  He deals with the Biblical content both in terms of text and context and yet frames things in a very fresh way.
I believe his views are also shaped by what he has seen working with the poor, human trafficking, turbulent people and places, and other inner-city ministries.  That is the BEST context to look at Scriptures.  To try to interpret the Bible absent of people and the struggles they face is to make God cold, impersonal, and an ogre.
He takes three very dark subjects and makes them all objects of hope, justice, and mercy from a God who wants every person to experience him.  Make no mistake, these are dark issues – but not because God is dark.  As the cross was a horrible thing – yet for followers of Jesus it’s pain was a thing of beauty that accomplished our redemption and hope in Jesus.  God is not a Sadist, harming the things he creates, but a loving and merciful God who is about the business of reconciliation.  This books makes that incredibly plain and clear.